October is a significant month in the college recruiting process as it is when your family can file the FAFSA – (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for those going to be in college in the Fall of 2022.
The sooner you complete this, the sooner you know what the Federal Government will say your EFC is. Your EFC, or Estimated Family Contribution, is what the government says your family can afford per year to send a child to college. The sooner you have this completed, the sooner you can receive financial aid packages or estimates. The 2022 FAFSA (you are filing the FAFSA for 2022) is filed off of prior, prior years’ taxes, so in this case, your family’s 2020 tax returns.
Here are some things to consider.
I actually advise against going to the website and applying on the first day, which is October 1. The system is notoriously slow and often crashes! I recommend completing this at some point during the first half of the month. Delaying this by a week or two will not negatively impact your application, but I do recommend completing it during the month of October because at some schools, financial aid is awarded on a first come, first serve basis.
Even if you don’t think you will qualify for FAFSA aid, many institutions offer grants (free money) for those that have filed the FAFSA by a certain date called an Early FAFSA award. I have seen these grants be worth as much as $1,000 per year, regardless of the EFC.
Either way, that’s real money that a college you might want to go to is giving away. The school you may end up wanting to attend may not have this type of grant, but many do as incentives to file the FAFSA. Plus, there are millions of dollars that colleges don’t spend on financial aid a year because people don’t think they are going to qualify for any money, and in the end they miss out. If you want to have leverage in the final stages, you will need to have the FAFSA completed and on file as the school will likely have that as a requirement, whether you qualify or not.
Many colleges won’t have financial aid packages until February or maybe even later, but if you want to know your price, then you can ask your admission counselor and the coach simultaneously. At the Division III level, the coach won’t be involved in this, but you can lean on the coach to help get you a financial aid package sooner. If you are ready to make a decision and all you are waiting on is a financial award, tell your coach this and knowing your financial aid package will help you make your final decision. The colleges know that if they provide you with your financial aid package it can help secure your enrollment, they will more than likely accelerate the process on their end. Keep in mind that this strategy does not apply to the top 2 percent of schools that have acceptance waiting lists, but for the other 98 percent, this applies.
College is the only business where we don’t know the real price until the end of the process or even after we have chosen which school we want to attend. Colleges have “gotten away with it” in the name of education. They claim that education is not business, but to the contrary. They are trying to get as many students with the least amount of financial aid given out as possible because then the college makes more money. When I was the Associate Athletic Director, I was the liaison between athletics and admissions, and so I was a first-hand witness to this strategy.
Filing the FAFSA is just the start. If you are stressed about the cost of college and finding the best fit for you, athletically, academically or financially, I encourage you and your parents to sign up for a meeting with me where I can evaluate your college soccer recruiting and tell you more about how to navigate the process.
Here is a great helpful “LIFE KIT” for filling out the FAFSA from NPR.